Ay Coronavirus! Never in my wildest nightmares would I have chosen homeschooling as an option. Schooling is already an ongoing headache for expat families like ours, who move countries every few years. In desperation, I briefly looked into it when we were moving to South Africa and were struggling to find places for our children. I was mightily relieved when we secured spots for both kids and homeschooling remained a distant bad dream.
However, with the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, all Hong Kong schools have now been closed for several weeks and the bad dream has become a semi-reality. Technically the kids are doing home learning, rather than homeschooling. This means I don’t have to set lessons, that part is done for us by the teachers. I just have to hover around all day to try and enforce them. “Get off your phone.” “No you can’t have another hot chocolate.” “That doesn’t look like school work.” “No, I can’t help with Mandarin.” “Take your time.” “Hurry up.”
The BBC recently ran a very sweet segment on an adorable little girl in Hong Kong who has seemingly taken to home learning like an exuberant duck to water. This was a story from the rose tinted end of the spectrum. Most parents I know are to varying degrees anxious, concerned, stressed, worried and ripping their hair out.
Increasing numbers of schools are closing across the globe to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which is currently affecting nigh on 300 million children. So, wherever you are, school closures could be on the cards for you too. Here are a few insights for you as we approach the end of week 5!
A Practice Run
We had a brief ‘practice run’ when our school was closed for a number of days during the Hong Kong protests back in November 2019. Caught a little unawares, it felt like a slightly boring holiday with a handful of assignments that were verging on being optional.
So we tried to get some school work completed in the mornings. Meanwhile, in the afternoons, we were able to mingle with our neighbours, our front door left on the latch so that the children and their friends could come and go.
Despite wafts of tear gas and panic buying in the supermarkets, there was generally a friendly holiday atmosphere with parents drifting from one apartment to another to share meals or have a nip of wine. The rest of the time was spent down in the courtyard supervising or joining in with badminton and football. But that was then. The arrival of the Coronavirus has put a whole new spin on the home learning.
This is Not a Drill
Hong Kong schools closed on 24th January for the Chinese New Year holiday. To date they remain closed and will do so until after the Easter holidays. Assuming the schools reopen as planned on 20 April, that will have been a 12 week break from regular learning.
We have two kids, one in primary, the other in secondary school. They have different learning styles and have different strengths and motivations. It’s a pain, but it could be worse.
Luckily, neither one is at a stage where they have big exams looming. We really feel for those with crucial G.C.S.E., A-Level and I.B. exams. It’s also a particularly tricky time for families with full-time working parents who are trying to hold down a job and simultaneously supervise school work.
Challenges of Unexpected Homeschooling
8 hour Time Difference
This is definitely a bit of an expat problem. We are currently holed up in the UK. Our school is in Hong Kong, which is 8 hours ahead. This means any online classes take place in the middle of the night.
Equally, classmates are scattered across the globe with many like us temporarily staying elsewhere. Socially, this is quite isolating, as the kids are not only missing seeing their friends in person, they can’t easily communicate (or in terms of any school projects, collaborate) in real time.
Excessive Screen Time
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, the learning is provided online. Where possible we try to print off work sheets or write on a notepad and photograph the work completed. Otherwise the kids will be spending the entire day glued to their laptop screens.
We have Google, we have books, we can visit the local library. However, if there’s confusion or a more immediate question, we parents are the next port of call. However, when it comes to any Mandarin home learning, the kids are on their own.
The hardest question of all is one that no parent expects to hear. It is the plaintive one of “We’re really missing school, when can we go back?” For now it’s one we can’t give a definitive answer to.
Is your school shut? How’s are your kids coping? How are you coping?
To hear some other expat perspectives on how the coronavirus has affected life, check out this article on Share the Love that I contributed to.